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Buckeyes Brief: Urban Meyer’s thoughts on running back rotation, kickoff struggles and team growth

Ohio State freshman running back J.K. Dobbins (2) runs the ball in the first quarter in the game against Penn State on Oct. 28. Ohio State won 39-38. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Photo Editor

Despite a 15-point fourth-quarter deficit, No. 3 Ohio State (7-1, 5-0 Big Ten) rode a stupendous performance from quarterback J.T. Barrett to a 39-38 victory against No. 7 Penn State (7-1, 4-1 Big Ten) in a battle of Big Ten powers. Head coach Urban Meyer addressed the media Monday afternoon following the victory. Here are three takeaways from the press conference.

Improved offensive line led to comeback win

Just a year ago, then-No. 2 Ohio State played a close game against the Nittany Lions, but crumbled on the final drive and fell 24-21 to unranked Penn State. Meyer believes this season, the Buckeyes’ resilience in tough situations did not exist a year ago.

“The team last year would not have won that game,” Meyer said. “They would have dropped their head. Offensive line would have dropped their head.”

Right tackle Isaiah Prince struggled in last season’s loss to Penn State. He looked overmatched the entire game and allowed multiple sacks as the clock ticked closer to zero on what would be Ohio State’s final drive.

But Prince has matured after a year of experience and coaching, Meyer said. The head coach was incredulous when asked whether he was worried about Prince heading into last Saturday’s game.

“He’s unbelievable now,” Meyer said. “Isaiah, not worried about him at all. He’s a grown man that’s handling his stuff the way a right offensive tackle at Ohio State should.”

All five starting offensive linemen graded as successful on between 82 and 86 percent of their plays. Meyer deemed them all to have “champion” effort.

Meyer does not want to “micromanage” running back carries

In the first quarter, freshman running back J.K. Dobbins exploded, taking four carries for 50 yards, including a 21-yard rush. But he did not touch the ball again until the third quarter as redshirt sophomore running back Mike Weber took all seven second-quarter carries.

Dobbins finished with 13 rushes for 88 yards while Weber had 21 yards and a touchdown on seven carries. Meyer said he does not, and would not want to, involve himself in divvying up the carries.

“[Dobbins] still had 88 yards and however many carries,” Meyer said. “So we’re throwing the ball so darn well right now, too. So there’s no, once again I don’t micromanage. That’s Kevin Wilson, and that’s Tony Alford to determine. And they’re both practicing very hard. You’d like to get them more carries.”

Meyer said he trusts good coaches to make playing-time decisions when the players are “1-A” and “1-B.”

“[Running backs coach] Tony Alford is an excellent football coach,” Meyer said. “The last thing he needs is me worrying about that stuff.”

Meyer said Weber has “really done a nice job” this season despite an injury which hampered him and made possible Dobbins’ surge, but also mentioned the 2016 starter was humbled. Meyer said Weber’s goal is to reach close to 2,000 rushing yards in a season. But with Dobbins accompanying him in the backfield for the foreseeable future, his path to reaching 2,000 yards is unclear.

Search remains for a solution to kickoffs

It took just 15 seconds into Saturday’s game for Penn State to take advantage of Ohio State’s biggest weakness — kickoff coverage — as running back Saquon Barkley returned the opening kick 97 yards to give the Nittany Lions an early six-point lead.

After the game, Meyer called the kickoff unit, which he said has historically been near the best in the conference, “comical.” Monday afternoon, he said it was “a joke right now.”

“We’re the only school in the America that can’t kick it out of the end zone, even with the wind at our back,” Meyer said. “I’m not a kicking expert but kick the ball out of the end zone and we don’t do that. It’s not because of not telling them to kick the ball out of the end zone.”

Former Ohio State punter Cameron Johnston disputed the claim. He took to Twitter to say he does not believe Meyer’s claim about not being able to kick the ball out of the end zone, as he said he has seen both kickers do so firsthand.

Regardless of how the Buckeyes fix the unit, they cannot afford to continue to send out the same unit expecting different results. If something doesn’t change, the number in Ohio State’s loss column will.

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